Variant Created by: Benjamin Hester
The Gaels - Forest Green, G (in Ireland)
The Scots - Blue, C (in Scotland)
The Bretons - Crimson, B (in Wales)
The AngloSaxons - Olive, A (in southern England)
The Danes - Orange, D (in Denmark)
The Norse - Charcoal, N (in Norway)
The Swedes - Teal, S (in Sweden)
Dark Ages Variant Rules, Version 4. Homepage: http://www.dipwiki.com
The Dark Ages Variant is a historical transplant of Hasbro/Avalon Hill's Diplomacy game to the North Sea region in 825 AD.
The Dark Ages variant conforms to the standard rules of Hasbro/Avalon Hill's Diplomacy in most every way, with the few exceptions listed below. The standard rules are NOT copied here, and all players of the Dark Ages Variant are assumed to own or expected to purchase the Rules of Diplomacy (or better yet, the full game) through Hasbro/AH, as I did.
Turns move from Spring to Fall just like standard Diplomacy, and the first turn is Spring 825 AD. Players take control of one of the seven major nations in the North Sea area, the Gaels, Scots, Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Norse, or Swedes.
Please check the names feature of Realpolitik for accepted abbreviations of territory names.
Somerset, Jelling and Lappland are bi-coastal territories, similar to Spain or Bulgaria in Standard.
The Island of Man and Roskilde are similar to Constantinople in Standard in most respects. Armies and Fleets may move directly from Jelling, to Roskilde, to Skane, and vice versa. This is indicated on the map with the brown and black "bridges." Unlike Constantinople though, Fleets MAY move directly from Kattegat to Bay of Reric (and vice versa) - they may move around Roskilde. A fleet in Roskilde may NOT convoy. The Isle of Man functions in a similar manner, as do the sea zones around it.
Zetland is a single land SC depicted on the map as an island group. Everything inside the small blue circle is a single space, i.e. the four small islands and the small amount of water around them are all one space (similar to Cebu in Colonial). Zetland is bordered at sea by Scapa Flow, Norwegian Sea, Rogaland Coast, and Moray Firth. It is not adjacent by land to any other territory, though Zetland may be occupied by an army (via convoy) or by a fleet.
Finally, the Eider River, which forms the border between Ribe and Saxony, is navigable by fleets. This means that a fleet in Ribe or a fleet in Saxony may move to either the North Frisian Coast, or the Bay of Reric. These two sea zones are *not* adjacent to one another - i.e. a fleet in Bay of Reric must first travel to either Ribe or Saxony, and then on to North Frisian Coast in the following turn. Neither Ribe or Saxony is bi-coastal.
There are 37 total SCs on the map. Solo victory is declared when one nation has control of 19 SCs (simple majority). Have fun and happy raiding!
The Dark Ages variant was released in late 2007 as part of my relentless quest to become the most prolific variant designer around. (I only have three others completed, so I’m sure I have a ways to go before I can claim that title.) Since that time, the variant has undergone three playtests (in ACD and DC) and four revisions.
Dark Ages is a simple map translation variant – meaning none of the core rules of Diplomacy have changed at all, only the map and the roles that the players assume. Which, in the case of Dark Ages, are the Gaels, Scots, Bretons, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Norse, and Swedes, roughly as they were in the year of our Lord, 825. Some concessions to gameplay at the expense of historical accuracy have been made, but these have been limited to the greatest extent possible. The layout of the North Sea region lends itself readily to the intent of the variant – to emphasize naval action and fill the map with opportunities for convoys. This is the age of Viking and Germanic invasions by sea, and the variant is designed to capture that spirit.
The next section of this article will provide the first-time player of Dark Ages (which encompasses 99.9+% of the human race) with a brief overview of the variant and its opening strategies.
- The Gaels -
The Gaelic position is most similar to Britain in Standard. The Gaels begin the game fairly secure in their island home that we know today as Ireland. While they enjoy considerable defensive advantages, their early opportunities for expansion are somewhat less than their immediate neighbours.
While the Gaels have a variety of targets available to them in the first year, only the Isle of Man can be guaranteed to fall under their sway. Beyond that, expansion will almost surely bring them into conflict with either the Scots or Bretons, and possibly the Anglo-Saxons as well.
Alliance with the Bretons should yield a negotiated settlement that allows the Gaels to peacefully occupy Lancaster, usually in exchange for a DMZ in Cardigan Bay and support into Cornwall. If the Gaels lend F Leinster to support a Breton campaign against the Anglo-Saxons, and the Bretons reciprocate with an army headed north through Deira, these two powers can make quick work of the western theater. If the Norse can be convinced to challenge the Scots for Zetland, then all the better.
Alliance with the Scots usually takes the form of a triple alliance of Gaels, Scots, and Anglo-Saxons against the Bretons. In fact, this is rightly called an alliance with the Anglo-Saxons, as the Scots usually only negotiate a DMZ in Hebridean Sea (the Gaelic Achilles' heel) and provide some limited assistance in Deira. It is not in the Gaelic best interest for the Scots to extend south, nor are they often inclined to do so, wedging themselves between the Gaels and the Scandinavian powers to the east. Still, the Gaelic-Scottish alliance can be very profitable for both parties, even if only to peaceably strike out in different directions, as the vector of growth for both parties allows for an alliance that can be sustained well into the endgame.
Above all else, avoid the formation of a Breton-Scottish alliance – the Anglo-Saxons are unlikely to be able to save the Gaels in that situation, especially if they are distracted by the Danes.
- The Scots –
The Scottish position is most similar to Germany in Standard. The Scots begin the game poised for rapid expansion, but will have to make concessions to their neighbors in order to secure their vulnerabilities on three fronts. Early occupation of key sea zones may carry a short-term cost in SCs, but will pay off as a deterrent to invasion from Scandinavia, and provide opportunities to gain diplomatic capital by offering support to Norse or Danish forces. Alliances with the Gaels, Bretons, or Anglo-Saxons are all strong options in the early game, though the Scot player in particular must keep a nervous eye turned east as events unfold in Scandinavia. Events in the British Isles and Scandinavia tend to resolve themselves independent of one another in the first 2-3 years, but after that, attacks across the North Sea become more common. The Scots would do well to be the first one to occupy the strategically invaluable North Sea and Zetland Islands accordingly.
Alliance with the Bretons is a desirable option that allows the Scots to resolve the western threat early and focus on invading Scandinavia. Moreover, the Anglo-Saxons can often be enticed to attack the Bretons in the mid-game, ensuring that the Scots secure the lions share of Gaelic spoils. Securing the Hebridean Sea allows a good convoy route into Gaelic territory, and should be seized upon at the first opportunity.
Alliance with the Gaels, as described above in their section, is mostly an alliance between peaceful neighbors rather than active allies. An early launch across Zetland and into Scandinavia can pay off in spades for the Scots, while the Gaels defeat the southern threats with minimal commitment from an army or fleet.
The Scots benefit from a tight core of easily defended home SCs, but are vulnerable to a coordinated attack from the Gaels and Norse. Should these powers force their way into Hebridean Sea and Moray Firth, a Scottish collapse inevitably follows.
- The Bretons –
The Breton position is most similar to Austria in Standard. The Bretons have a tight group of home SCs that are all interconnected, and their position lies in a veritable minefield of SCs. Just beyond that perimeter however, lie Gaels, Scots, and Anglo-Saxons – all three potential strong allies or formidable enemies. The Bretons must tread carefully – peace on one, preferably two, fronts is a must. To that end, SCs such as Deira and Lancaster must be weighed carefully – are they more valuable in Breton hands, or traded away for friendship with a neighbor? An opening stab to Hwicce that threatens Hamptonshire can damage Anglo-Saxon growth tremendously – but are you *sure* that the Gaels will stay by your side? Of all positions in Dark Ages, the Bretons offer the most reward for well-timed stabs.
Although an alliance with the Gaels begins in a tense standoff over Cardigan Bay, these powers are actually quite compatible. As described above in the Gaelic section, the Bretons can often negotiate to secure Cornwall in exchange for allowing the Gaels into Lancaster. From there, the two allies can successfully engage both the Scots and the Anglo-Saxons. Builds will have to be carefully managed as the alliance progresses to reduce the threat of a stab across Cardigan Bay, but the potential payoff of this alliance is usually sufficient to deter such aggression.
The Bretons and Scots both have a natural interest in growing to the east, and to that end, often agree to eliminate the Gaelic distraction to their west first. This is an especially appealing option if the Anglo-Saxons are willing to agree to a DMZ in Hwicce and Middle Anglia. Dividing Gaelic spoils may be tricky, and the Anglo-Saxons must always be watched closely, but if the Danes are willing to keep the Anglo-Saxons occupied, an alliance with the Scots can create a good midgame position for the Bretons.
- The Anglo-Saxons –
The Anglo-Saxon position is most similar to Italy in Standard. Peaceful neutral expansion is readily available, and first year growth of 2 SCs can be attained without violating neutrality – but not without opening up vulnerabilities in your home SCs. Breton invasion of Hwicce and Middle Anglia are significant threats in the first and second years – if their attacks are coordinated with the Gaels or Danes these threats have the potential for early Anglo-Saxon elimination. Although dangerous, Breton/Scot alliances are usually directed more at the Gaels than the Anglo-Saxons, and should be encouraged. Breton/Gaelic alliances should be disrupted at all costs.
An alliance with the Bretons provides the obvious benefit of a secure border, freeing resources for an invasion of the European continent and Cornwall. Similar to the Gaelic-Breton alliance, the Anglo-Saxons can and should consider loaning a fleet to the Breton campaign against the Gaels in exchange for uncontested entry into Cornwall.
The Gaels can also make an effective ally for the Anglo-Saxons, albeit one that must be carefully managed to ensure that their fleets eventually turn north after the Bretons are defeated. While the Bretons enjoy superiority on land over the Anglo-Saxons at gamestart, the Gaels can usually occupy enough of Breton attentions to neutralize this threat while the Anglo-Saxons increase their forces. This alliance option is particularly appealing if the Danes will agree to a peaceful settlement in Frisia and Austrasia.
- The Danes –
The Danish position does not have much similarity to any position in Standard. The Danes are unquestionably a naval power with considerable prospects in both directions on the European coast, as well as at the expense of their neighbors in Scandinavia. The Danes form one point of the “Scandinavian Triangle” of the Norse, Swedes, and Danes. Typically, two of these will ally against the third, and barring significant involvement from the west, that third power will be eliminated early. It is very much in the Scots and Anglo-Saxons interests to prevent this from happening however, and it is not at all uncommon for a Scot or Anglo-Saxon fleet in the North Sea to prop up Danish or Norse defenses to that end.
Alliance with the Norse works well if a deal in Skagerrak can be reached, and an equitable division of Swedish spoils is agreed upon. These two powers can readily coordinate attacks on Skane, unlocking the Swedish defenses and providing the support the Norse need to advance on land. The Danes in turn benefit from plundering continental SCs and securing their eastern front.
Alliance with the Swedes allows for rapid early Danish growth by negotiating a settlement for Skane and the continental SCs instead of fighting over them. If the Swedes can be persuaded to build in the north (particularly a fleet in Lap/wc) then this alliance can be very successful over the long term, even if it can be difficult to divide Norse spoils effectively. The Danes may even gain enough on the European continent and from an early invasion of the west as to make Norse spoils irrelevant.
- The Norse –
The Norse position also bears little similarity to any position in Standard – Turkey is the closest match, but that is mostly due to their relationship with the Swedes. The Norse have a simple choice of alliance with the Danes or Swedes, while remaining vigilant against Scottish fleets heading east. This choice also dictates whether the Norse will be primarily a naval power (as is the case in most alliances with the Swedes) or if they will fight on land for dominance of Scandinavia (which is the direction most alliances with the Danes lead to.)
The Norse are the second point of the Scandinavian Triangle. Of the three, they are the most vulnerable to attack from the west, typically by Scots that got off to a good start. To that end, they usually have the most interest in a rapid resolution of events in the Scandinavian Triangle, which allows them to take the initiative against the powers of the British Isles.
Alliance with the Danes, as mentioned above, allows for coordinated attacks on Skane, and diverts enough Swedish attentions south that the Norse should be able to overpower the Swedes on land, particularly if a lucky guess in Lappland and Trondelag goes their way.
Alliance with the Swedes allows the Norse to focus the majority of their efforts west, while negotiating for a peaceful division of Scandinavian spoils. The canal between Ribe and Saxony allows for Swedish fleets to pass peacefully south of the Norse home SCs. Accordingly, the Norse should insist on maintaining Skagerrak (and presumably Lindholm) as their spoils in this alliance.
- And finally, the Swedes –
The Swedes are the third point of the Scandinavian Triangle. Their position bears many similarities to Russia in Standard, most notably in bi-coastal Lappland. They have ample early opportunities for expansion, though most of them will be contested by the Danes or Norse. Tension runs particularly high in Varmland and Skane, and a wise Swede will guard these territories jealously due to their tactical value. The Swedish rear guard is very secure from attack, however, an alliance of Norse and Danes can launch a devastating pincer attack that can quickly reduce the Swedes. The Swedes stand to gain the most from western involvement in Scandinavian affairs in the long term, despite the inability of those powers to directly aid Swedish defenses against an attack by the Norse and Danes. The Swedes must focus more than any other power on the control of territory with tactical value rather than simply gaining SCs.
An alliance with the Danes, as mentioned above, reduces the need to dedicate excessive forces to Skane and the continent. This allows the Swedes to focus on occupying Varmland, and invading the Norse home SCs. If the Danes remain loyal, the Swedes should have an advantage on land that allows them to swiftly control Scandinavia, particularly if the Scots open a second front.
An alliance with the Norse may be preferable if the Scots focus on the western theater. In this case, the Swedes should appeal to the Anglo-Saxons for assistance against the Danes, and focus their efforts on naval dominance in the Baltic Sea region. Close coordination with the Norse is necessary to ensure that the Swedes do not bog down in Skane, and it is likely that concessions will have to be made in Alvheim or even Trondelag or Varmland to secure this support. Spoils in Danish territory should heavily favor the Swedes to offset this.
I hope this quick overview of opening strategies for the Dark Ages has piqued your interest in the variant, and whetted your appetite to pillage and plunder in the cold northern waters.
Your humble variant designer – B.